The New York Knicks won’t experience success overnight, but they can build the foundation for a sustained return to prominence this offseason.
The New York Knicks have been the laughingstock of the NBA for the better part of the past 20 years. Despite having one of the most passionate fanbase, electrifying arena, and desirable market, the Knicks have made the playoffs just four times since 2001.
One could spend hours debating the primary reason for New York’s steady stream of failure, but there’s one word that summarizes the missteps: Foundation.
New York has spent the James Dolan era attempting to find the star who will give the team a player to build around. It’s resulted in a number of questionable trades and costly free agent signings, as well as the aforementioned four postseason appearances in 19 years.
Pursuing a star player is one thing, but doing so without a foundation on which you’re building will leave said player with little help in the long-term.
The New York Knicks can learn from the Nets’ approach to rebuilding
Difficult as it may be to credit the cross-borough rival, the Brooklyn Nets figured this out under general manager Sean Marks. Brooklyn drafted well, handed out short-term contracts, and hired a head coach who helped create an identity and culture.
It was then that the Nets were able to persuade both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to sign with a franchise that has won just one playoff series since 2007.
The process was tenuous, and Kenny Atkinson was ultimately replaced as head coach during Durant and Irving’s first season in Brooklyn. In the end, however, the Nets ended up with two All-NBA players who have won at the highest level.
Marks may be adjusting the identity and culture of the team on the fly, but he did what was necessary to get stars on his roster—and that’s what New York must do this summer.
By drafting well, the Nets were able to surround Durant and Irving with promising young talent on cost-effective contracts. By embracing a team-first culture, those players were essentially prepared for a scenario in which the ball may not always find their hands.
By getting players such as Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, and Caris LeVert postseason experience without a perennial All-Star present, Brooklyn took an even greater step in the right direction.
The Knicks are capable of doing the same—if not more.
New York already has two up-and-coming players who project to be high-quality starters for years to come in RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. With the right head coach and development, they could be groomed into the role they’d ultimately play with stars present.
It’s also possible that Barrett or Robinson, if not both, could be developed into players of a high enough caliber to step into the star roles themselves.
New York also has a plethora of first-round draft picks coming its way, as well as a number of second-round selections. By embracing the value of those picks, the Knicks could fill the roster with young players on rookie-scale deals.
If even a fraction of those selections prove to be hits, New York would still have a stronger foundation than in any rebuilding season since 2009-10.
Lest we forget: Long before Amar’e Stoudemire became the first star to sign with the Knicks in what felt like an eternity ago, Donnie Walsh built an impressive young core. That unit only won 29 games, but it hired a coach with a positive reputation in Mike D’Antoni, and empowered Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari.
In free agency, it essentially replaced All-Star power forward David Lee with All-NBA big man Amar’e Stoudemire—a player who saw the potential in New York.
Before any other acquisitions were made, the Knicks had the 2, 3, and 4 spots filled by known commodities. Stoudemire was a guaranteed 20 and 10, Gallinari could do a bit of everything at small forward, and Chandler was a two-way asset along the wings.
From there, New York signed Raymond Felton, who fit the system, to a two-year, $15.8 million contract, and found short-term value in round-2 selection Landry Fields.
That core was blown up in order to trade for Carmelo Anthony, but even still: New York ended up with two All-NBA players and the cap space to sign Tyson Chandler.
We could debate whether or not the Anthony trade should’ve happened when he was eligible for free agency that coming offseason. Nevertheless, the Knicks enjoyed three consecutive postseason appearances and the only 50-win season since 2000.
Whether the Knicks follow that same path moving forward or opt to protect some of their young assets while still acquiring stars, they have a blueprint to follow: Their own.
Or their in-city rival’s.
If the New York Knicks manage to hire the right head coach, utilize the NBA Draft to their advantage, and operate methodically in free agency, a return to prominence could be closer than it seems.